Luiz Guerra is a Brazilian historian, researcher of medievalisms, and free-lance translator. His previous works include the first Portuguese edition of The Inheritance of Rome, by Chris Wickham. One of Luiz’s current freelance translation projects is translating the works of the Brazilian Romantic poet and writer Álvares de Azevedo into English exclusively for Reynolds’s News and Miscellany. Azevedo’s works have never been translated into English before but the translation offered here will be of interest to all Romantic literature scholars and those interested in poetry more generally.
Manuel Antônio Álvares de Azevedo (1831–52), referred to usually as Álvares de Azevedo, was one of Brazil’s most famous Romantic poets. Yet because his works have never been translated into English, Azevedo remains largely unknown to most British and American scholars.
The son of Manuel de Azevedo and Maria Luísa Azevedo, a wealthy couple living in São Paulo in 1831 and who moved to Rio de Janeiro two years later, in 1844 Álvares began attending the Colégio Pedro II. It was here that Álvares learned to read English, French, and German, became acquainted with the works of European Romantic poets and novelists. He was particularly drawn to the works of Lord Byron, Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Chateaubriand, Percy Shelley, Goethe, and Thomas Chatterton.
Azevedo was particularly enamoured with Byron and wrote several imitations and even tried translating Byron’s Parisina (1816), which Azevedo proclaimed as
One of the most smoothly written of that poet—of all I know in English, the softest.
[É uma das cousas mais suavemente escriptas desse poeta—de tudo que eu conheço em inglez o mais suave].[i]
In 1848, Azevedo enrolled in the Faculty of Law at São Paolo but his dry legal studies did not dampen his passion for literature.[ii] As his college years drew to a close, Álvarez began writing poetry, plays, and short stories such as Lira dos Vinte Anos (1853) and Noite na Taverna (1855). None of these writings were to be published while Álvares was alive, however, for in true Romantic style, he died young. Having contracted tuberculosis while living in São Paolo, he moved to his family’s country estate to recover. While travelling to his family’s home he fell from his horse and died from his injuries.[iii]
Luiz Guerra’s new, and very fine, translation into English of Azevedo’s Shadow of Don Juan [‘Sombra de Don Juan’] is the first English translation of Azevedo’s poem. With great skill, as is usual of Guerra’s translations, he has largely preserved the original rhyme scheme—with some exceptions necessitated in any translation of a foreign language poem into English—while retaining Azevedo’s meaning.
Clearly, Azevedo’s own Don Juan poem is part of a global trend of ‘imitations’ of Lord Byron’s epic Don Juan that appeared in the nineteenth century.
Stephen Basdeo (Editor)
The Shadow of Don Juan
[Sombra de Don Juan] by Álvares de Azevedo
A dream that was not at all a dream.
LORD BYRON, Darkness
You finally closed the somber eyelids!…
And the visage turned green from death in shadow,
Like a lamp exhausted!
And now?… in the silence of the sepulcher
Dreameth of love… the alabaster breasts
Of languid lovers?
And Haidea, the virgin, along the beach wandering,
To the murmurs of the sea that sighs for her
With incognito desire
Whispers to thee vaporous delights…
And the beautiful sleeping foreigner
Or does the pale libertine visage
Remembers the complexion, the voluptuous figure
Of the half-naked oriental?
Or does the night wind in your hair
Whispers and remembers of the past the
In the grave without writing?
Rise up, libertine! I waketh not thee
So that the orgy reddens thy face
That death has yellowed…
Nor for games and delirious nights,
And for the fever of gold and the lips of the lost
And the nocturnal convulsion!
No, O beautiful Spaniard[iv]! I come to sit
At the edge of your bed, because the fever
My insomnia devours…
Because I don’t sleep when the dream passes
And from the past the desecrated mantle
Brushes my face!
I want to talk to thee in the shade,
I want thee to bid me about thy briefeth nights,
The fevers and the maidens
That in the fire of living thee withered in thy chest!
Raiseth thyself a while from the white winding-sheet,
Wake up, Don Juan!
With thee I will mourn[v]: from thy shroud
In the black folds I will lay my visage,
Like a mother’s lap…
And as frivolous pilgrim
Of life the waters I will greet smiling
At the reaches of infinity!
And when irony freezes
And death turns blue my cold lips
And my chest mutes…
In the burning wine, in extreme gulp,
In a laugh… to life I will toast mockingly
And I shall sleep with thee!
But no: he didn’t come in the shroud wrapped
Don Juan, half-naked, laughing disbelieved,
Mocking the past,
Just beyond… where the leaves whitened
At the moonlight that bathed the cemetery,
I saw a figure in the shadow.
He sang: the longing mandolin
Pressed to his chest, like naked and perfumed
The Madonna would [vi]her son;
And the mandolin’s voice pervades…
More languor drank resounding
In the cavernous chest.
From the sombrero undressed the pale visage,
Raised to the moon the pallor the face
Which tears filled…
He sang: I listened… loved his song,
With him I sighed, I cried with him:
— The figure was don Juan!
III: THE SONG OF DON JUAN
“Oh tanned faces! oh flower lips!
Hear me the guitar that adorned shine on,[vii]
Swallowed thee my chest, my kisses love fierce[viii]
Oh flower lips,
I am Don Juan!
“In the breezes of the night, in the soft moonlight,
In the kisses of the wind, in the cool morning on,
Tell me: has thee not seen, in a dream finite,[ix]
In the soft moonlight,
A feverish Don Juan?
“Wake up, wake up, O my maidens,
The breeze on the waters throbs with eagerness yon![x]
O my maidens,
I am Don Juan!
“O! you never felt the love o’the Spaniard!
On the sweet lips of pomegranate burgeon,
Kisses that in the fire of the sun incinerated!
I am the Spaniard:
I am Don Juan!
“What love, what dreams in the feverish past!
What many illusions in burning passion
And what pale maiden faces
That sweetly for me passed out!
“I was the gale that to the pure flowers
Opened the lips of love in the morrow!
If I withered them later… it is that blows
The wind, into pieces, the mountain flower!
“And so beautiful, my God! the snowy pearls
I dipped them in the mud each alone,
Nothing remains of my dreams of love!
In black waves only red foam!
“Angels I deflowered! that fainted
In the torrent I cast from the lupanar![xiii]
Children who slept on my chest
Woken, heart aching, in whimp’ring clamour!
“And don’t the leaves tremble in the whisper,
And don’t the souls throb with anxiety,
When Don Juan passes through the rain,
With kisses, Don Juan, in satiety?”
Like a virgin who feels shake
In a breath of love the beautiful life,
That faints, that trembles…
Like a virgin in the slow agonies
Her blue eyes to the heavens lifting
Her snowy hands on her breast…
Sensing that her blood is cooling
And that in her pale cheeks kisses
The angel of agony…
Still exudes the harmonious song…
She-oak[xiv] hanging where whispers
The twilight of life…
So, on the lips and on the gentle strings
Of the throbbing mandolin, the grief
Moaned like the wind…
Like the swan that floats, that gets lost…
In the lake of death still groans
The longing song!
But then in the silence a laughter
Convulsively gasped… broke the strings
Of tender assonances,
Broke them and without pity… and in other fibers
Ran the fingers carelessly and cold,
Spattering them w’derision.
“Men resemble the fashions of one-day,
And old and waned[xv]
Clothes that are stained…
But who would say
That it’s a fashion of one-day,
That is old Don Juan?!
“May the years that pass in black hair
Whiten with snow
The crowns we know!
Say, angels debonaire[xvi]
With black hair,
If old is Don Juan!
And when in the bosom of the trembling belles
At night sighs
And raves and shies…
Let them tell
The trembling belles
If old is Don Juan
Let say so the Sultana,[xvii] the violent Spaniard,
The blonde German
And gilded Turkman…[xviii]
Let say the Spaniard
That the night pandered…[xix]
If old is Don Juan!
The song was long… Sang; and the wind
In the cypresses with him died down!
His face fell, his lips
Went silent… like silences the wind
Of the tropics, in the rotten calm…
Brooded Don Juan.
[i] Álvares de Azevedo, Obras de Álvares de Azevedo, ed. by D. Jacy Monteiro, 3 vols (Rio de Janeiro: Typografia Americana, 1853), p. xxxix. Translation by Stephen Basdeo.
[ii] A Biblioteca Virtual de Literatura [online], ‘Manuel Antônio Álvares de Azevedo’, accessed 27 November 2021, http://www.biblio.com.br/conteudo/alvaresazevedo/desanimo.htm
[iii] See Maria C. R. Alves, O Poeta-Leitor: Um Estudo das Epígrafes Hugoanas em Álvares de Azevedo (University Sao Paolo Press, 1999); Luciana Fatima, Álvares de Azevedo: O Poeta que Não Conheceu o Amor Foi Noivo da Morte (Annablume, 2009).
[iv] The Spaniard here is male, Dom Juan.
[v] The word here is “velarei” which means, literally, to watch. However, it is usually applied in the sense of the mourning ritual prior to the funeral in Catholic tradition, where friends and family stay in wake or vigil watching the deceased.
[vi] I have added the “would” here breaking structure a bit but trying to make the sentence clearer for non-Portuguese speakers.
[vii] Original would be more like “the guitar that shines adorned”, changed for rhyming purposed.
[viii] “Meus beijos de amor” My kisses of love. Fierce added for rhyming purposes. in the cool morning on
[ix] Original word was pass-past, changed for rhyming purposes.
[x] Yon added, the original would end in eagerness. Added for the purpose of rhyming.
[xi] Added comma.
[xii] “and the nights are beautiful” would be the original, again changed for rhyming.
[xiii] Latin word for brothel.
[xiv] Casuarina in the original.
[xv] The original is ironed, but I the sense of an old cloth stained and ironed many times, so keeping the sense of strain and also rhyming we opted for waned.
[xvi] Original term is closer to beautiful/pretty
[xvii] Female for Sultan. Plus, all those demonyms in this verse are on their female conjugations.
[xviii] Greek in the original, changed for rhyming
[xix] Original is consoled. Changed for rhyming, this potentially alters the connotation by making it less ambiguous.